Patricia Highsmith's first novel, in which she manages to bring to the table all of the painstaking characterisation and psychological minutae of herPatricia Highsmith's first novel, in which she manages to bring to the table all of the painstaking characterisation and psychological minutae of her later books, while at the same time failing to create any of the tension.
I don't know if it's fair to call Strangers On A Train a thriller - really, it's more of a crime melodrama. The two characters meet, one seemingly sane while the other is obviously unhinged. Rich, petulant, Dostoevskian Charlie Bruno meets architect Guy Haines and suggests that they enter into a mutual agreement for a pair of perfect murders. It's simple, really - Bruno kills Guy's wife, from whom the man is separated and attempting to divorce, and in exchange Guy will kill Bruno's father, who the man loathes with all his being. Of course, Guy thinks Bruno's either a nut or a joker, and just sort of patronises him. And of course, Bruno is the first of the two, and actually goes through with his half of the scheme.
The central premise of this book is both somewhat implausible and highly intriguing - really, the best sort of premise for any crime story. And the character relationships are sketched out with a fair bit of complexity - especially as Bruno begins to harass Guy after the murder, gradually drawing the architect into a peculiar sort of bond. It's the old theme of the shadow, in which one man (shallow, impulsive and violent) complements the other (detached, calm, functional and hypocritical) and in the end one has something approaching a real human being. It's probably not a coincidence that Guy is referred to throughout by his first name, while Charlie is always just "Bruno".
Unfortunately, this separation of character, rather than creating two compelling figures, ends-up defusing some of the tension. Highsmith's detailed, neurotic approach works much better when you're locked inside the head of a self-contained whack-job like Tom Ripley. There's also the problem that, while one always suspects the duo might be caught, for most of the novel there is no real danger and the emphasis is rather on the personal reflections of Guy in the face of Bruno's requests and his own, increasingly less admirable, actions.
In the end, this is a fine book, but it suffers a little from a lack of assurance on the author's part in terms of structure and a few moments of implausibility (something from which the vastly overrated Hitchcock film suffered, too). However there was obviously a massive talent germinating here, and, given that Highsmith would go on to write The Talented Mr, Ripley, one of my favourite books, I'm willing to cut her some slack....more
Where did the Joker manage to find a group of evil sideshow freaks who were willing to hang-out in an abandoned carnival with him, attempting to tortuWhere did the Joker manage to find a group of evil sideshow freaks who were willing to hang-out in an abandoned carnival with him, attempting to torture a man into insanity? And how did the Joker afford - let alone install and operate - all of those giant TV screens in the house of horrors ride? Unanswerable questions such as these are the sort of thing that prevent me from taking American superhero comics seriously.
On the other hand, I loved the musical number and I thought the joke was really funny. So all in all this was a fine bit of surreal weirdness. ...more
Fleming's writing, pacing and characterisation improve dramatically with this book. There are still a few moments that strain credulity even within thFleming's writing, pacing and characterisation improve dramatically with this book. There are still a few moments that strain credulity even within the context of a James Bond novel, but this is an ace thriller....more
Another solid entry in the Modesty Blaise series, this time it's a collection of short stories. Given that O'Donnell seems to have been better at charAnother solid entry in the Modesty Blaise series, this time it's a collection of short stories. Given that O'Donnell seems to have been better at character and incident than a taut, well-structured novel, this actually makes the whole thing more enjoyable than the other Blaise books I've read. There's an impression running throughout the book that O'Donnell just sort of sat down and dashed these off in each in its own afternoon, but I have no real trouble with this, given that Modesty and Willie Garvin make for one of those most likable and interesting duos in the field of pulp spy-fiction.
If I've got a complaint, though, it's that O'Donnell's claim that he's "in love with Modesty and best friends with Willie" tends to show through a bit too much at times, particularly in the case of the former. There's always something a bit remote about Modesty, even when we're reading a story told from roughly her perspective (interestingly, Willie Garvin gets his own first-person narrative here (and one of the best stories in the bunch, too), but Modesty is limited to the third person limited). And the less said about scenes where Modesty becomes, ahem, "emotionally entangled", perhaps the better. On the one hand, the her love-interests are invariably shown as being rather silly, chauvinistic and overly possessive in romantic views of Modesty, but on the other hand O'Donnell does slip a few times into something dangerously close to presenting her as a sex object.
Then again, it is called Pieces of Modesty. The point of Blaise is that she's somewhat fragmentary and essentially unknowable, as a total person. The key to this rests in the story "The Salamander Five", where a Swedish artist who has become her lover spends a great deal of time trying and failing to capture her face in mahogany, before realising that the problem lies in his trying to capture every facet of her personality, rather than just one of her many moods. When Modesty is shown from the inside out (however limited those exposes may be) she's generally represented as a rather no-nonsense sort with a clear, logical mind driven by ruthless pragmatism.
I don't know what my point is (unless it's that I'm taking a busman's holiday from my Literature homework). I'm not sure how I feel about O'Donnell having created Modesty as some sort of perfect, quasi-virginal embodiment of God knows what. I do enjoy poking about in his books, in any event.
Oh, and this leads me to one odd point - Peter O'Donnell seems to have something against kinky sex. He goes on about it in "I Had A Date With Lady Janet", where Willie spends a great deal of time explaining that he's not dating an amputee because he's a pervert, and then he does it again in "The Soo Girl Charity", where Modesty and Willie end-up "rescuing" a girl who they perceive to have murdered their husband due to his sadistic sexual practices. Of course in the end it turns-out that she actually enjoyed the cigarette burns, and killed the man because he was cheating on her with someone else, but still.
Actually that brings me to one final point, which is that every story in this book ends with the revelation that one of the characters is not anything at all like everyone had assumed them to be.
There's a thesi at a disreputable university buried away in all of this, but much like Cugel the Clever I am disinclined to go diving for it....more
I've only read three le Carre novels, and while I've enjoyed them all immensely I'm starting to think he may be the single most depressing writer in EI've only read three le Carre novels, and while I've enjoyed them all immensely I'm starting to think he may be the single most depressing writer in English. If I have a complaint with this one, it's that the web is so tangled that, the characters through whom you experience the action being as comfortable as they are with the world of the book, there are times when it feels like the author's gone beyond making things complex and knotty and just started being deliberately obtuse. However it's more probable that I am just an idiot.
Casino Royale is unevenly paced and at times rather crudely written, and even though the premise is great there isn't really much of a plot. At the saCasino Royale is unevenly paced and at times rather crudely written, and even though the premise is great there isn't really much of a plot. At the same time, there's something strangely compelling about this odd little book. There's very little to tell, reading it, that it would spawn the outlandish series that it did....more
The structure of this book is marvellous. The first part consists of the lead suspect's diary up to the day before he plans to commit his murderous acThe structure of this book is marvellous. The first part consists of the lead suspect's diary up to the day before he plans to commit his murderous act of vengeance, while the latter parts consist of the murder investigation as it is undertaken by a very strange man named (appropriately enough) Nigel Strangeways who is hired by the lead suspect (himself a professional writer of mystery novels) to prove his innocence. All in all a hell of a lot of fun, even if the case was, as Strangeways himself points-out, a most unhappy one. Will have to find more Nicholas Blake mysteries....more
OK so there's a guy, and he's maybe psychic, and a bunch of unscrupulous psychiatrists-cum-crimelords are keeping him drugged to convince him that he'OK so there's a guy, and he's maybe psychic, and a bunch of unscrupulous psychiatrists-cum-crimelords are keeping him drugged to convince him that he's a) Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, and b) capable of killing people at a point of his finger? All that and a sexually-explicit puppet show within the first dozen pages? I have no idea what's going on....more